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tv   Book TV  CSPAN  January 1, 2010 12:30pm-1:50pm EST

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anne heller is the former executive editor of condi nast rourke and a news editor of a self. for more information about ayn rand, visit ayn >> coming up next a talk with the coeditors and contributors of "go, tell michelle" a collection of letters from african-american women around the country to first lady michelle obama. this lasts about an hour and 20
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minutes. >> it's such a pleasure to be here and it's an exciting time for us and we're so pleased that we had the opportunity to come and talk with you about this book which has been a labor of love and a passion for us so we're going to tell you a little bit about it but before we do i'm going to turn this over to my colleague so she can say a few words, too. >> yes. we're excited to be here and we're especially excited that a number of the contributors to the book have also joined us. this has been really a worldwide endeavor and the caribbean as well as places like liberia, the cameroon, niger, and other countries in africa so we are extremely excited about the historic occasion of the first
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african-american woman in the white house and the response to that occasion. >> since peggy did mention the contributors could we have them just stand right now. those who are we have laurie and betty, and donna. [applause] >> and we're going to invite them a little later in the program to say something about what this experience has meant to them and what motivated them to write to us because what we have found over the course of the last two months since this book was published that we developed a network, a sisterhood hood which we call the gtm sisterhood network and it's comprised of these 100 women who contributed to this outstanding work and to this historic work as peggy mentioned. and so we want you to know them a little bit better as well and so we will have them say something as we go through the program.
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but we wanted to tell you what motivated us on this book. we'll talk about the uncrowned queens a little bit later in the q & a because this has been a passion of ours for 10 years. the uncrowned queens institute. and maybe i'll just say a word about our mission. the mission of the institute is to identify, collect, preserve and disseminate the histories of african-american women whom we call community builders. and this actually -- the uncrowned queens institute set the foundation for this book. the institute's goal is not only to reclaim the histories of these african-american women community builders and as i said to share them and primarily to share them via the worldwide web, and we have a website at which has the biographies and the
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photos of thousands of african-american women from the buffalo, new york, area as well as the state of oklahoma. and we primarily and concertedly invited our community to join us in this work of reclaiming this history by giving us the biographies of the community-builders. and these aren't normally women who are well-known in the community. but they are the bedrock of the community. and they arevub the women in building institutions and as you talked about social justice, who are the activists, you know, who are the educators and who are the mothers of the community? and very often we don't collect their histories and we don't preserve them and that is the goal over the last 10 years. and in a sense that also is the reason why we did this book. although it wasn't the exact impetus for this book. the impetus was really the
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culmination of the whole election, the process of watching as, you know, the campaign went on, becoming very much engaged in learning more and more about michelle obama and seeing her more as she emerged as a person in her own right and certainly a person who supported her husband and seeing that she was unfairly treated and that she was denigrated on a number of occasions, that she was presented in terms of her image and in terms of her style, in terms of her intent very wrongly and i just have to point to the cover of the new yorker magazine which portrayed her as this angry black woman, you know, this militant black woman, this hostile and violent black woman who could do you harm if she used a knife. if she used a gun and if she decided she was going to be combative.
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someone who was unpatriotic. and that really -- and i know that not only with us but with so many white women, black women, latino women, men as well, we're incensed that this woman should have been portrayed so negatively and unfairly. and so probably a week after the election was over, and we were all basking in, you know, the euphoria of having the first african-american president in the history of this country and, you know, by virtue of her marital status, the first african-american first lady in this nation's history. i turned to my colleague and i said to her, you know, peggy, i think this woman is probably going to need some support and some is encouragement and, you know, know that people out here really are supportive of her as she enters this new phase in her life in this uncharted territory for her. so why don't we send out a
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request and ask african-american women to write her letters, to write her poems, to express not only their esteem but also their encouragement and their support. so initially when we sent out our call for letters, we termed it "dear michelle: letters of love, support and encouragement" and that's what we asked women to do and we sent it out over the internet because, you know, we're in a technological world. but also because we only gave people three weeks to respond. to this call. we asked them to send in their letters by december 1st because our intent was to have a book published by the inauguration. so it didn't give us a whole lot of time. so we gave them until december 1st to send in their letters and they did. they did by the scores. over 200 letters were received in that time period. and we had to do some work to identify 100 letters because
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there was so many good letters but we could only choose 100. we were going to publish this ourselves potentially but then my colleague had the bright idea and also the fact that she has a lot of chutzpah or something -- [laughter] >> she's so quiet right now because i'm doing all the talking but we're going to let her talk in just a minute. we do something -- we call it tag-team presentations 'cause we've been doing this for so long over the the ten-year period or more that we work together very closely. we normally have a feel for, you know, our own presentations and what we can say and how we're going to say it. but i'm going to throw it over to peggy now and let her proceed with the rest of this story as to how we got this book to our publisher. >> well, we had meetings with gary dunham who was the new ceo of soony press. we didn't know him but a friend of ours had directed him to us
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and he talked with us and he was very interested in the other books that we had done and we self-published those books. we set up a publishing company called the uncrowned queens publishing and we decided it was time to tell our own story and that's what we did through the uncrowned queens institute but when i called gary dunham it was to say to him, look, we got a deal for you. if you publish this book, we'd like you to, we need you to publish it inside of 30 days. and that must have been a crazy statement to make. because we know that with an academic press you're going to have two months at least of review and maybe six months later you may not be notified that the book was accepted and maybe a year later you may not still be ready to publish. and we thought that what we needed to do as an effort to support the new first lady, that we really wanted to be able to do this book in at least 30 days if not a few days more and it turns out it was 34 days as barbara mentioned.
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the publisher said -- i mean, so if you had seen us the month of november, at least beginning after november 12th up to december 1st you wouldn't have recognized us. [laughter] >> really, it was a crazy scene. we tossed the editor -- the soony press guy asked me if i could give him a schedule and i drummed up a schedule what it would look like if it would work. we had an idea if the press had said for, we're not going to publish you, then we were going to take out a loan and we had printers on standby because we know if you get a book written you could get it printed in 10 days. so we figured that's -- we want to remind all of you, if you get a book written, you can get it printed in 10 days. the ink may not be dry. [laughter] >> but just give it a few days. it will be fine. so we decided to do that. and we said to him -- i said to him, look, he was away on a conference and i took a chance calling him and he was in oregon and so he said give me a day or
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so, i said look, i've scouted the internet and no one is doing this. so this is an ideal thing to do. so he said give me until monday morning and i'll let you know he. so he called us monday and said, okay, this is a-go we can do this. well, the rest of his staff of 40 people must have thought he had gone crazy because he had other books in line waiting to be published. but it was the historic moment we needed to capture and we needed to do it then and we needed to get it done then. so after it was all a-go i guess he had some second thoughts perhaps and he said -- he called again and he said, maybe you could send me one of these letters. i could take a look at it to see what the story is. [laughter] >> so we sent him this letter, the first one via email by arlet miller-smith who wrote this poem called "we in anticipation of you." and if i recall it, it starts like we in anticipation of you.
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we swallowed, vomited and engorged oceanic passages, saw deemed inside, dark encarriers moving culture kindred from home and tribal remembrance to enslaved reality. that was the opening. we thought oh, my goodness. [laughter] >> and that it went on an extraordinary writing of recounting the history of african-american women from africa to this country. and laying out all of the things and finally concluding to michelle saying that we in anticipation of you now that we actually can remove this mantel from the shoulders of sojourner truth and ms. cooper, marian anderson and rosa parks and on and on and on. and then we later sent them about 80 other letters so that they could take a look at them. now, when we really knew we were on to something is that we couldn't stop crying.
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every time we got a letter, it was an emotional experience. whether it was a person writing about their mother or their father or men writing about -- or women writing about their children or women advising michelle obama that women had prayed for her, it was an extraordinary experience for us and we never, ever doubted that we could do it. but what we uncovered that was so powerful was that black women had this incredible network. and all this data that says that we don't use the internet, not so. it's just not true. it's not only that we use the internet is that black women had established this base around the world because black women were sending us letters from africa and saying i got from ethiopia and i got this email. where it was buenos aries they
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were writing to say, is this the real deal? i mean, are you actually -- are we actually going to see these letters in some form? is it possible that these could go to the white house and is this a hoax? and no, it wasn't. it was an extraordinary response. and i might add that -- and barbara will chime in with this that another thing that we will really struck with was the diversity of themes as well as with the diversity of women. they were housewives. they were former university presidents, people who were on the faulty and people who were writers and not writers. people who had never tried their hand at writing before. they ranged in age from 25 to 80. and they were writing things that really told us that black women had very deep sensitivities and sensibilities about this historic moment and the role that they could play in it. and some of the themes -- and
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i'll stop now so that barbara can -- >> some of the themes she says. as peggy said in terms of the tears, the letters and the poems bringing tears to our eyes, we found that certainly in some of the reviews that have been done and some of the emails and the letters that we received is that the themes and the expressions and the feelings that were expressed by these women resonate with men, white men are writing us and telling us that they're reading these letters and they're crying, you know? white women are writing us. latino women, black women and men are writing us, foreign women -- african women and the universality of it and that it
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resonated with so many people all over the world. one of the things that, you know, i mentioned one of the impetus for us was certainly the image of michelle obama that was expressed on the cover. while that image of her was not just an image of michelle obama, that was an image of all black women, and we know for years, hundreds of years, black women have been defiled by images that say we are welfare queens. you know, we are poor mothers. you know, we are licensus and jesabell women. a 36-year-old wrote in her letter about how she has been working to change the image that people have of her in her workplace and she writes to michelle and she says, you know, i can only change and educate a
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few. but you can change and educate the minds of many. african women wrote to say that you are going to make a difference for black women worldwide, not just in the united states, so that theme certainly resonated throughout this book and resonated with so many of us. women wrote about -- you know, we are very spiritual people. and prayer is very important. and many women wrote to say that they are praying for the obamas, certainly for the safety of the obamas, the well-being of the obamas. and prayer is very important. and that they want michelle to know that we pray for you. we're praying for you you. we'll continue to pray for you and for your safety. and while no one mentions the a-word in terms of president obama we all know it's in the back of our minds and so those
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prayers and those well wishes are expressed as well. and women talked about the ancestors. as peggy said the historical role that we have played in this country to have the ancestors looking down on the obamas smiling because now we have a black family that's walking into the front door of the white house that was built by who? the slaves who couldn't only come in through the back doors. and so again i think that the expressions and the themes that resonate within these letters and these poems are ones that we can identify with. black women told about their stories, about their own families and about their own history to connect to the obamas. both peggy and i have letters in this book. and my letter is about my father. and about my father's struggle,
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you know, throughout his life to care for a large family, all the jobs he had, a talented man who only had a sixth grade formal education but who was a minister, who worked very hard in a plant. every day got up at 4:00 am in the morning. who was a photographer, self-taught, and a musician. you know, and this was the man who took care of our family, who was a nurturer. where again black families are not seen, black males are not seen as taking care of their children and their family but we have, you know, the obamas as a representation of that. but that's been true in our community for ages. and so we wanted to tell that story, you know, to let michelle know and to let others know reading this book that there is this historical continuity
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within our families that goes back generations and now we see the evidence of that very, very vividly portrayed in the obama family. >> sxaipt to say something that, you know, we've been trying to make sure the people understood what kind of book this was because a number of people got this book and some of the people who reviewed the book, they kind of open saying this is a book of very nice -- a book of letters. these are very sweet letters. these are very nice. and the feeling is kind of nice, neatsy, cutsie book. this is about women telling their stories to a woman that they say as someone who a part of a major historic occasion. that we are likely never to see again. and that the stories are very complex.
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they are complex in that they deal with issues that oftentimes as african-american women we have glossed over. or hidden or not talked about. women, young women in here, talk about -- and very clearly identify the intraracial color line. where they take a look what it means to be a black skinned woman and they say to michelle we're happy to see you because we see you in us or us in you. it is great. the african women saying it's amazing that we should see a black man in the presidency. but it's even more amazing that we see a black man in the presidency with a black woman. that's really powerful. [applause] >> and young people put that out there so to say. and so there's nothing neat and cute about that. that's a long-term, long-standing issue that we have to address.
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black women talked again about prayer and putting that as the center of this happening and reminding us that it was prayer -- that was the privilege that got us over and that we should never forget that. and then they talked about the love of a black man for a black woman. and the way they talked about barack obama and as he said, you know, oh, girl, oh, honey child, the way he looked at her when she walked away. and, you know, they were -- as they wrote it and what they were saying is that they wanted black men, their black men, to look at them with the same love, the same desire, the same affection. and they said this. and they wrote this as though they were writing to michelle obama. and it was -- you know, and they were saying to their partners that, i want this from you. and so it puts a whole new spin on the idea of black love, you know, of a black man loving a
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black woman and needing a black woman and most importantly, that michelle obama could -- that a barack obama could show unbas d unbashedly to this love not maybe in 75,000 people in denver, that he could show it to billions of people around the world just as if no one was looking. that was one of the most powerful thing for me. and these women not only talked in their own voices, they gave agency to the women who had lived before them. their mothers who had passed away. their grandmothers. they revived the old names in rosa parks and again all the other names that i mentioned before. so they gave agency to the life and the stories of those who had come before. to me -- and i know also to barbara, this was an extraordinary book because we saw again black women as historians. we saw them as poets.
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when they talked about the love of michelle for obama and vice versa. we saw them as people who could document this historic moment. and then for us, it reminded us of things that our own experiences -- barbara spoke about writing of her father and i wrote about my aunt lily and i'm looking over on the wall with all these historic faces and i was looking for the face of rosa parks because -- yeah, for rosa parks because several women in this book had their own bus stories. it's amazing how one person can stand out and we see that as the example but there were millions of other people that had their stories. when i looked at this i realized the story that i wrote for my aunt lily letter that she and i had had our own bus story and i said here, you know, aunt lily told stories of the bitter segregation in the south.
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i had felt it firsthand. i was with aunt lily on summer vacation when a white bus driver told us to get up from our seats. we weren't far enough behind the white line that divided black from white. he said we could not have two seats even though i was too big to sit on her lap. he demanded that we go to the back and stand. aunt lily refused. egged on by other white passengers the driver came to our seats and threatened to throw us from the bus. aunt lily never budged. he shouted obscenities aunt lily shouted back. i've been baking pies and cakes for white folks to eat all morning. i'll be watching your pissy bed sheets tonight and now, right now we're going to be sitting in your white seats till we get off. with my heart racing and fear nearly choking me aunt lily turned my head to the window. we rode home silent but seated. [applause] >> so we find that other women
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write their own bus stories, that other women recalled points in their life that was so important. and they showed themselves as writers with deep passion, with a deep understanding, with a deep knowledge of their place in history, of the place of their grandmother in history. and we were most moved by women who loved the idea that michelle obama was not only going to the white house but she was taking her mama with her. [laughter] >> and that -- and we know as black women what it means to take your mama with you. i'm looking here at karen may from the association of the study of african-american life and history and i believe she just came in with her mom. she dropped -- her grand mom. so we -- you know, it's been extraordinary this whole experience of inviting black women to tell us their feelings and to write them to the first lady. and let me just tell you
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something about the title of this book because people always ask us about that. "go tell michelle." it started out as "dear michelle: letters, of support and commitment." we sent it in to the publisher and they called us up how about this title "go tell michelle." we didn't want anyone bossing us around so we thought we would sleep on it. and as our muse, those of us who write poetry sometimes visits you in the early morning hours, so i had that experience and the muse said, it's not just "go tell michelle" it's go tell it on the mountain. and so going and doing a little bit of the research on it and finding out -- and calling the publisher back and said, we'll go with that title but there has to be a comma after the word "go" and what it signified for us was that, one, we were identifying someone to engage in an action and we were identifying a person to be the recipient of that action.
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you go and you tell who? you tell michelle. and that's analogous to go tell it on the mountain, the whole negro spiritual from the early 1800s and then really kept alive by john work and the fisk jubilee singers and that title originally had the comma in it. go tell it on the mountain. so this entire book from cover to cover is esconsed in african-american history >> i've been asked about the cover. so often and the few books that had been written about michelle and the articles that are done by her, you have the glamour poses, the glamour shots, the front-on pictures of michelle and we don't have this on this cover. what we have is michelle who's engaged in conversation with an older woman. and, you know, it symbolizes what we have felt about michelle
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and what we know about this particular experience because we didn't know who this person was. these photographs are actually from the associated press. again, our publisher suggested them and we looked at them and we felt very comfortable with the photograph and what it symbolized. but one of our contributors who lives in richmond contacted us and said, guess what? i went to my hairdresser, you know, how it is to go to the hairdresser. you learn all kinds of things from the hairdresser, like the barber shop, guys, right? she went to her hairdresser and she took this book and she said, guess what? i'm famous. i have a letter in this book. and the hairdresser looked at the book and said, huh, you're not as famous as ms. henley who's on the cover of the book. [laughter] >> so michelle is talking to ms. henley and, you know, as i said, peggy, who has the chutzpah of the two of us,
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contacted ms. henley and we found out where she was in richmond, virginia. and i don't know if i can do it in dialog the way peggy does, so peggy says she called ms. henley and if i don't do it right, you tell me. so she called ms. henley. she said ms. henley, you know, she introduced this book and she said we have your photo on the book. no, child you don't. oh, really? and so peggy said we have you talking to michelle obama, you know, how did that conversation go? and this apparently occurred on september 18th, 2008, when michelle was in richmond for an economic summit. and ms. henley was talking. well, child, i don't know what -- i don't know what she said to me because my knees were knocking so. i just don't remember. so peggy said, well, what did she say to you? she said well, i told her about myself and my husband, ms. henley is almost 80. and the fact that we had to get another job to support
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ourselves. we had jobs cleaning offices. and she and her husband were riding to work one day and he said to her, mary, mary, i can't feel my legs. my legs are numb. and he said, mary, my arms are numb. and he pulled the car over to the side of the road and he died. and so ms. henley told this story to michelle obama. and it was quite soon after the death of her husband and so in telling the story, she was in tears. and ms. henley said that michelle obama reached over and got tissues for her. reached around and hugged her and comforted her. and they became friends as a result of that conversation. and so several weeks ago when the president had his first -- or his first speech to the joint houses of congress, the white house invited ms. henley to come to d.c.
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and they brought her to d.c. they put her up in a a hotel. -- in a hotel to the congress and also to the white house. and by this time we had sent her a book so that we could verify that she was indeed on the cover of this book. and she took her book with her to the white house. and she showed it to the president and he looked through it and he said to michelle, michelle, i think you need to sign this and so michelle obama got this book and she signed it for ms. henley. now, we're waiting for michelle to sign our book and all the contributors' books. we're going to the white house. you heard her today, it's the 27th of march. we just had another contributor come in. we're all going to the white house, y'all. we don't know when but we're going. all you people at busboys you heard us. you folks on c-span, you heard us. somebody tell michelle.
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[laughter] >> to invite us to the white house. [applause] >> 'cause we want to go. >> and i have to tell you, the black women's network is really something. because women are talking to one another on their blogs. you can go to our blog at and they are talking to us on facebook and there are people writing to us and saying what is this facebook thing? and it is a thing, you know. and we'd say well, go for it because if peggy bertram will do it anybody should try it. they went to our web page on and yet we still didn't understand or appreciate the breadth and the scope of their network. beginning with the black churches. and we just left the black church today. and by the way, what publishers say, listen, it will take two
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months before you can get a reading set up or presentation. don't believe it. don't believe it. because when one black woman calls the minister of her church, you got to read it. and if they call friday night, you got a reading saturday morning. and if you go to a black church on sunday, you got a reading on monday, tuesday and wednesday and it's absolutely fantastic because we're working at selling a book, selling a book by virtue of people hearing about it and understanding what it is and seeing its importance and seeing, you know, the importance of the historical moment. and the people on the african continent are saying, particularly the women from the countries are saying, we need this book in french, sil-vous-plait. and we have a haitian woman who wrote a review of the book'd i french and so that's on our web page.
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my daughter lillian spent some time in argentina and is fluent in spanish so we have a translation of a review on our blog spot in spanish so all of our latino friends can read about this book in spanish.ou÷ and so people all over the world have expressed interest in it. it has been a phenomenal experience.hc0ñ but most importantly, we are talking with 100 women from all over the world almost every day. and last week we wereot[ here washington, d.c. -- or the capital heights, maryland, maybe at the gallery an absolutely fantastic place invited to come to
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her house and overlook from the balcony. and so daily we were getting photographs, which we're in the process even now of still putting up. photographs of everything that was happening along the parade route, who was going to be where, what the street looked like. so it was absolutely fantastic that again this network was keeping us informed as we were in our pajamas trying to put the book together. and trying to seal the deal. it's been an absolutely extraordinary experience. and what we want to talk about also is how is this book to be looked at?
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people who are in african-american studies, people who are in american studies, cultural studies, women's studies, sociology, feminist studies, gender studies should all be wanting take a look at this book. women who specialize in understanding biography writing, how people write because, you know, the art of writing the letter has gone away. but people remember that. the women out of africa, for example, address the first lady your excellency and with the salutation and so we brought back, we think, the greeting and the salutation that african-american women had for their letters many, many years ago. so i can't say enough how exciting an experience it has been and certainly the excitement that we know that the women experience as well because we have at least hundreds of pages now of comments that you have made to us and women all across the world. and we're working to document
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that for historical preservation of what women actually thought about what it was that they were doing and saying. >> and this seems like a good time to invite those who have contributed to this work to come to the mic and say a few words about, you know, what this has meant to them and what motivated them to do this. would you like to start -- maybe we can start with aza donna. aza donna smith. >> greetings to you all. it is such a wonderful honor to meet you two personally. i feel like i know you. since november we've been communicating -- you all have been communicating with the contributors pretty much on a daily basis. and it's just been a wonderful experience and so i thank you, one, first for your mission in producing this work.
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and, two, inviting me to be a contributor. i have two things i'd like to share. the poem that i wrote is called "so much of the woman that i am." and the purpose in writing that was -- i would hear a lot about how michelle obama was an anomaly as a black woman, you know, the first black woman to be, of course -- thank you. the first lady. but just different, you know, she's somehow different. and that was not my experience at all. michelle obama to me was my aunt, my mother, and all of the women who groomed me in south carolina which is two towns over from georgetown where michelle's paternal grandparents are from. and so there's this huge connection for me to write about
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how michelle obama is not an anomaly but she is so much of the woman that i know and the woman that i am. and that's behind my piece. i recently returned three weeks ago from ethiopia where three weeks ago today i was honored by the africa's international media summit as an achiever. i won an achiever's award for my work in rebranding the image of africa. and that is exactly what you all are doing and what you've talked about today. this need for us to rebrand the image of black women. that work is being done on the continent, being led by dr. erica bennett of the diaspora africa forum, dr. desta mcgue. candice mikins here in the united states. and it was such an honor for me
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to be a part of africa's international media summit for 2009 where this year's theme was women in the media. and to win this award and bring this award back to the united states where i could share it with all of us and all my family and friends. and i absolutely believe that my participation in this book was viewed very heavily in honoring me to be a part of this work. so i thank you again and i thank you all for being here. [applause] >> hello, peggy and barbara. regan, i think we've emailed each other on numerous occasions. i'm so thrilled to have you in d.c. i'm a third generation washingtonian. and the mother of a beautiful 4-year-old daughter. and i refuse to have her anywhere but in d.c.
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i had the opportunity to have her in maryland and virginia but i wanted her here in d.c., so i'm glad that you all are here in this magnificent city. at this magnificent time. the way i was selected, my poem "stand in your truth." it was a fluke. a friend sent me the email. i wrote the poem in 10 minutes. and sent it off. it was divine. and greater powers took over when i was writing it. so i was honored to be selected. i had a launch brunch on mlk day, the day before the inauguration and gave the book out as gifts. ordered a large quantity and gave it to my guests. my mother lives in melbourne, australia, and she's been flying the book all over the place. and excited about it.
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and i'm actually going to visit her there next month and i'm looking forward -- oh, okay. okay. okay. i think we have a battery technical issue on one of the mics. but in any event, it's just been spectacular. and the sisterhood that has sprung forth from this book has been amazing. i'm not a person that belongs to a sorority so it has created its own sorority. i serve on the women board of governors on the democratic club. i'm the youngest african-american women on the board of governors at this club and they're excited about the book.
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they put the book in their library. they want you all to come at some point and speak at the club. so we'll make that happen. so i'm excited to be part of it. so excited for both of you. i wish you continued success and blessings. [applause] >> and can you speak a little louder, too, until they get the mic straightened out. >> i will. i just want to say it's good to meet both of you in person and to see you. i've been looking on your pictures on the web pages and talking to you over the email and over the phone. i'm excited to meet you and to be here. and to be a part of this experience. it's been amazing. i'm not a writer. and i just got the email. i got it a couple of times, i think, from a couple of different people. and the first time i got it, i
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said, that sounds like a good idea but i just kind of put it to the side and didn't pay attention. and then another friend sent me the email and i said you know what? i'm going to respond because like a lot of people, i had had so many thoughts during the election season and i had so many conversations about everything that had happened including the new yorker magazine cover and just -- i felt a connection to michelle and saw so many different people in her, i thought i'm going to write it. and to my amazement, my letter was selected. so again, i'd like to say thank you for that. the theme that i think made me really want to write it is i just felt the need to express myself about michelle because i think she does represent so many things to so many people. and in my letter i say -- when i look at you i see me. because i felt the connection to her and to barack. having gone to law school in a
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predominantly white institution and not quite feeling as if i belonged. so looking at her, i knew that she had maybe experienced some of that. i said when i see her i think about my mother because she's such a practical nurturing and caring person and that's who i see in my mother. she reminds me of my sister, my sister friends. she reminds me of my cousin, the one whose smile is something that i always want to emulate. the one whose skin always seems to glow. she just embodied so many people for me. and she represents the best, i think, in me and in a lot of us. and so that was what prompted me to write my letter and i thank you for allowing me to express it. [applause] >> that was lori jones. i don't know if lori said her name. betty?
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>> my name is betty. and as peggy mentioned i live here in d.c. on pennsylvania avenue. so i had a chance to observe the inaugural day parades the last four times, if you will. and i've had a chance to wave at all of the presidents and first ladies. and so watching the planning for this one was a challenge. but i must confess my thoughts about michelle may have been a little different in that -- after living in d.c. for so long
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and after working for the federal government, i've had a firsthand look at all of the first ladies and all of the other people around. and i know that when they get in the white house, people are expecting them to act but there's no job description. so that's what i was concerned about when michelle got in the white house. if anything, there's no job description. you're going to have to create your own. but i knew that she would create something that would be good for everyone. so that was -- that was my thoughts for writing. i would like to say, i have a friend here in the white house, chuck hicks -- he's the chairman of the d.c. black history committee. i did ask chuck when she's
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ladies were coming to please use your network and see if you can get some people out here. so i did want to mention him. and thank you for coming. we're glad you're here. >> thank you. [applause] >> one final contributor who's here, miriam? >> i thought it was over for mimi -- for me, speaking in public. i hope we'll hang out again. my name is miriam guichard, and my letter is quite different than to the other letters that you will note in the book. but what i felt when i was writing it is the same. michelle obama for me looks exactly like my sister, acted exactly like my mother and my
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grandmother. she has not disappointed at all. she is who she is. and i love that. i spent about half of my life in africa in french-speaking africa. and part of it was in the foreign services of public affairs counselor. and my job was to teach the africans the host country nationals as we call them about american culture and about american politics and why we do what we do and why we are as we are. i must say that the -- most of the time i was the first woman to head my office. invariably i was the first black to head the office. so there was a lot of curiosity about african-americans in africa.
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i loved doing african-american history month. and i would love -- i'm sorry. i'm retired. i would love to have been able to do not only a book-signing but other programs that we would have overseas. my letter is mainly a concern, a letter to michelle to ask her to remember the women that are not here. the women in french-speaking africa that also long to know something about us. that also long to know who we are. we are as they are but they don't understand and they don't know. and every opportunity that we could have to share this information with them, the better it is. so i am working also for the book to be translated into french. and i'm working also for you all to speak to our audiences in french. there is simultaneous translation. and i hope that that comes about.
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i thank you so much for accepting my letter. i thank you so much because i'm newly arrived back in the united states. i don't have a large group of friends, but now i have lots of sisters. so thank you so much. [applause] >> good evening. >> good evening. >> my name is chuck hicks. [applause] >> and i work with d.c. black history celebration committee. but there's a couple of comments. one on behalf of many african-american men, i think the book represents our sisters, our mothers, our aunts, our cousins, just a whole bunch of black women that black men are geared to. that through this book and through michelle that has shown.
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and you all could be congratulated for that. the second thing that i'd like to make a commitment to is that i will make all efforts to make sure that the d.c. public library places this book in all of its branches. i will also make sure that i make the american -- ala american library association black caucus aware of this book and we can recommend that it be bought for schools and libraries and all of that. i think it is something that every library should have in its library and certainly i can make the commitment that in an metropolitan area we can certainly make that happen for you. so thank you. >> thank you. that's excellent. [applause] >> we want to thank the contributors who are here today for stepping up and speaking out. this is the first time for many of them that we've had an opportunity to see them
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face-to-face and to put the face with the name and with the emails that are back and forth. but, you know, as everyone has said here, because of this book, we had this other unintended consequence so to speak. and that is the development of this network of sisters and the network is growing. it's growing because, one, we are continuing to receive letters. and we hope to have an online "go, tell michelle" book so to speak soon of those letters that were not able to be placed in this book. because there certainly are other things, other kinds of publications and activities that we need to go along with this book, as we talked about, and you talked about, don, the education -- educational program that you have here and peggy talked about. the fact that we see this as an educational tool, not just for
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college courses but we think that high school students certainly could use this book as a discussion guide as a means to talk about the various issues that the african-american women who wrote in this book have identified but in a sense are identified for those who didn't get their letters in this book as well. so we have a lot more work to do in terms of this book and we know that the network that we've established and all of you -- we invite you to join our network as well. we gave you some email and some -- some urls for various facebook and blogs that we have. but we encourage you, if you go online to "go, tell michelle" either our facebook or blog and send us is comment on some of the stories that are there. add your own comment about the book, once you get it, and once you have a chance to review it. we'd love to get your feedback. that's very important to us.
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and, you know, we have received a lot of encouragement as a result of the feedback we've gotten from people about how they have seen this book and how this -- what this book means to them and what it says to them. >> i want to add also that we spent 40 hours in the studio making an audio book on cd and we finished that maybe two or three weeks ago and that should be available early next week or late next week. as many as six or seven cds and what we did, barbara and i took turns in reading your letters and i have to tell you that when you are reading these letters out loud, you hear them differently, you see them differently and you feel them differently. and we think it's an extraordinary collection that you can listen to while you're driving and while you're just sitting doing nothing but just wanting to listen.
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so keep an eye out for those. they should be available online very soon. and in bookstores. and so we'll let you know. >> yes. i'm with women's peace group called code pink and together with a number of women's groups we're doing a mothers day gathering in front of the white house for 24 hours from noon on may 9th to noon on may 10th and this would just be the perfect book for us to be reading together and we would love to invite you and any of your contributors who could join us to come and read from the book for us. we've also invited the three generations of obama women to come. we hope they'll join us and we hope that you would, too, because the book just sounds marvelous. i can't wait to read it but what a place but in front of the white house to read the letters together. thank you. [applause]
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>> it's pretty astounding the turnout voices with just three weeks to come to your door. it's pretty stunning that it was clearly affirmation. but i wonder if you could further articulate your criteria for your choices. and if there will be an opportunity for either one of you or both of you to read pieces of some of the letters or the poems that are in the book. great. so again, what was your criteria and then could you share just a little bit of the language and the voice in your book. >> i might tell you that when we started doing the uncrowned queens books, the notion was that we were asking women to nominate women or to submit bios of women whom they thought had contributed to the building of their communities. so we didn't set any criteria.
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we felt that leadership rises in a community. and people know who do the work. and they know the stories of the people who did the work. so we -- it was up to people to nominate one another. and it was so good that we did that because we took ourselves out of the equation. so that when somebody's photo and bio appeared online, we only made it appear there but someone else decided that, in fact, was the person. so there was no criteria. but we accept they were community builders and somebody knew that and believed that. none of the books were cookie cutter. any letter could have started out any way it could have started out. because we didn't want to have control over. -- over that. we held the same policy with reference to the letters that we received. we did very little with those letters. a comma here, a semicolon there.
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and i learned to hate the comma in certain respects. people use commas in the craziest of ways. so we didn't -- we didn't fool around with the letters. and occasionally we might see a word -- i mean, i remember distinctly somebody used the word "beacons" and i thought they meant beckons and so i called them and i forget who it was she was absolutely stunned. are all are really reading these. absolutely, we're trying to understand what you're really saying. so that kind of editing we did. but overall, the letters came and went and went into the book exactly the way we got them. so the criteria was that it was a good read. that it was diverse. and it wasn't a question of throwing anything out. it was a question of what we could fit in and we agonized over the 100 letters or more that we didn't include.
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>> i would do that.
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yeah, i mean, you know, mike -- let me -- my wonderful and lily passed away a few years ago. she had lived for centuries. her grandfather had been a slave on a plantation in virginia. for more than four years she worked at a bakery in a department store and richmond, virginia. when i was a child she made many visits to my home in baltimore, maryland. whenever my family fell -- fell on hard time, my mother would sit for an later she would always come. we would meet her at the greyhound bus station. she never traveled light. she had several plaid suitcases with buckles tied together with assorted straps to secure the contents. filled to bursting, the suitcases had apples and pears from aunt lily's front yard in virginia. she also had a pork placed inside a burlap bag. this was the prize possession and lily had come to be a hungry
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family in baltimore. she was always right on time. we couldn't wait to get her to the house. as she climbed the rickety front steps to 1641 part street around the corner from the johns hopkins medical school, she called out for the children to get their paring knife to peel the apples and pears. she called for the big pots to boil the water for the old. when aunt lily pulled on her old white canvas apron, we knew we would have many tasty treat for the winter. perched on the edge of a not so steady chair, or an old cooler aluminum cup turned upside down, aunt lily would hoist up her dress a bit and place in antipot between her legs that she had no shame that her heavy nylons nodded at the knees were exposed. when the children laughed about her stockings, she said, i'm not here for a fashion show. with mere lightning speed,
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transixtetransixteen began peeling apples and pears, and in no time at all they were dropping like flies into the pot between her legs. talking fast while peeling, aunt lily told stories of the the segregation in this epic and i've read that before. but then, hours later and still in her traveling, and lily had the apples and pears ready to be preserved. we were comforted by the smell of old spice, cinnamon, cloves and sugar, and with the sight of aunt lily putting the big pot on the stove we all settled down. aunt lily was back in town. she was our second mother. with the preserves bubbling and thickening on the stove and the jars ready for philly, aunt lily took the wrapping from the smoked pork, slicing the meat like it was goldleaf, aunt lily showed us how to make it last for the winter. when i learned that your mother might join you in the white house, to care for your girls and to support you with this awesome job, i was ecstatic. young people can always use a
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second mother. it reminded me of my aunt lily coming to support my mother during difficult times. as first lady, you will definitely be in an exhilarating but difficult time. i'm writing this letter for my aunt lily. she didn't get a lot is going, but she gave a lot of love. she knew how to be a second mother. if my aunt lily were alive she would tell you not to let anyone push you around, and make sure you take care of your baby's. while your mom doesn't have to bring apples and pears in old suitcases to the white house, i know she will be toting bushels of love for your entire family. written for my aunt lily. [applause] >> and i want to add that if you go to our blog or the facebook, you will hear and you will see peggy's aunt lily, because there are photographs added to her reading. i am also reading the letter that i wrote and photographs of my dad, and pictures that he
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took during his lifetime. so go to our blog, there's a lot of good stuff. >> it's wonderful. it's all wonderful. i have learned jives so i'm going to try to get through this. i just want to talk a little bit about what you mean to the book. my friend told me about the book after she had sent her selection in, and that she had been selected. and in the day that the book came, we were together in the car. and i read her poem, and then i read a part of another one. and i come from theater and film, i'm an actress and a singer and a director. and i say, well, this is a staged reading. we just have to put this on stage but it just can't be between these two, has to go on
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stage. got in touch with the two queen mother's here. and after a lot of going back and forth, we agreed, probably, could very well be a staged reading. and we're in the process of getting that done right now with some very fine actresses, staged in a way that will be -- and we can do all 100. were not doing 100. and we're hoping very strongly to get them in front of the first lady. we have a letter at the white house right now. and so, i just want to say that there is a lot of praise and adoration for michelle in this book. and it is all warned. but along with that praise, there's a balance there. because the women she draws out other women all of these
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experiences, because of the path that she took, they are able to give life to things like aunt lily. i had a grandmother who sent masticated through the mail from virginia to baltimore. [laughter] >> so i know the aunt lily story. and it is all very, very wonderful because this is the history that is never put in history books. in fact, we probably should come up with another word for it, because it is some way that life lived between the covers. it is flush that has become words. you know, it is motion that has become still long enough for someone else to read. so since it is time for change, perhaps we should think about changing what we call this, you know? but it is definitely i think a
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work that needs to be documented a number of different ways and he needs to continue to grow. and i think my voice is just about out. [applause] >> i just had two simple questions that are you going to have a sequel? and i was wondering if we could hear the young woman's poem? i'm dying to hear her poem read by the young woman who wrote the poem. also, i was going to give a hint of what that sequel might be. it could be coattail the first grandma. >> there is a sequel, and actually it's the stories behind the stories. because as we have walked this journey, this path, that we are on, those who have come with us, bringing us along, are
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introducing us, to a new page in what we call history and her story, or you know, some of the word that we haven't come up with. but yes, we do have another book in mind, which is really to document what this journey has been. and since we haven't gotten to the end yet, there may be a third book yet to come. >> no, we didn't mention the journal. >> one of the things, you know, the press is talking to us about, and you have to say is extraordinary, because it isn't everyday that a publisher, ceo of an academic crap will jump on a book like this and say okay, let's roll with this. let's get it done. that's not everyday that that happens. so we sent out really signed to a young man who came out of the university of nebraska,
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university of nebraska press who really jumped on the idea, never got off of it, gave us an opportunity to do a lot of things. and then sort of stood back and watched, and that's fantastic. and so, it wasn't like somebody came in and said, turned this idea on its head, this is how it has to look. and was it anything like that. first of all, we would have gone for. secondly, there was never a thing like that so we thanked him. we think the university of buffalo that gave us an opportunity before our own offices with uncrowned and we could have done that without him. so it's been an extraordinarily, you know, coming together. so there are a number of different things that we will do but barbara's right, one of the things that's important is to take a look at, and that is that the stories that people have told us, namely the women about how they came to this, and meeting you and hearing your stories here, is another story
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about the story. when we went to the bookstore in harlem and you just have to go there, to have all those sisters from all over new york calming and bringing their mothers and their fathers and their lovers and husbands and their children and grandmothers, and standing up and signing books with us and telling us that, you know, how their lives were changed. and one of the creeping up to me and saying, she's alive again. she's writing again. this broker writers block. she's on the road again. so there's so many powerful stories that we heard that really want a chance to document those, just don't want to lose them at all. >> the press would like us to do a journal which will allow us to bring these stories forward, a lot quicker. because a book takes, yeah, at least 34 days in our case.
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[laughter] >> but the journal, articles might take 20. we are exploring a lot of different avenues as to how to get the stories out. >> one of the things i should tell you is that barbour and i both developed a new appreciation for one another in this work. and it's something that we will find time to think about more to write about. because you know, what moves one person doesn't necessarily move the other person. but then we spend time arguing for somebody. no, we have to have her in here. why? because. this goes this way. and it's nowhere else. i don't know about that. well, sleep on it. and to our relationship changed in a good way, and we learned who we were. we learned of the things that made us cry. we learn the things that twisted us up inside. you know, really, it was really quite an experience looking at
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this and, you know, knowing the things that can wrap, oh, no, and then coming to an appreciation that all of this is great. you know, it's different for each one of us. that for me was really a profound experience. i learned a lot about her in terms of her, as she learned a lot about me. so we would like to incorporate that in the next book is the weekend, out the other end of it. >> are there any other questions? [inaudible] >> some poetry. i'm not sure which one. >> you don't have to convince us. >> absolutely. yes. and there is lori. and what i would ask, is that
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you read a portion of it that way -- [inaudible] >> okay. aza, why don't you read yours and we will find regan. >> again, the poem is so much of the woman i am, and it's found on page 125. up from the pine trees and the tall grass and the seaweed surrounding the people in a little town in the south, spring forth a humanity that is deep in you. into the hallowed hallway and astaire looms and the façades preserving the privilege inside the buildings up north, you revealed an intelligence that is 99. back on the homefront, in the busy streets in the daily duties of a professional, wife, mother,
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daughter, sister, friend, you've found a way to gracefully bring balance and beauty to a world that is sometimes cold and unforgiving. for so many, you paint a different story. you paint a different picture, tell another story. for me, you represent so many of the women i know, so much of the woman i am. the powerful queen for your mothers of the past are within you, and they are proud. the favored children of the future are within you, and they are blessed. the visionaries, hard-working and strong black woman of today are within you, and we are thankful. so much of the woman you are, we are. so much of the elegance, dignity, strength and character you display, we see in ourselves every day. when the days become endless and dreary and the wait seems too hard to bear, look in the mirror and see all of the women who
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have come before you and made it under dreadful circumstances. see all the children who have yet to come, and know you shine a light so bright that will make their world a more livable place. see me, cheering you on, giving you hope, holding your hand with minding you daily that strong women keep getting stronger. and at the end of the day, when the outside world is gone, it is you who must decide to hug your children, kiss your husband, respect your mother, protect your family and love yourself. and at the end of the day when the world outside is gone, please know always, so much of the woman you are, im, and i am here sending you love. to michelle obama. [applause] >> i'm going to read regan's poem was back there being shy. dear michelle, stand in your
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truth. when the world wants a piece of you, a piece of him, and a piece of them, wants all of you, all of him, all of them, want none of you, none of him, none of them. stand in your truth, his truth, in their truth, remember who you are, who he is, who they are. remember that you want him, that he wants you, and that you both love them more than life. remember, when you have had it with yourself, had it with him, and had it with them, stand in your truth, in his truth, and their truth. root yourself, remember your roots. ground yourself, walk on solid ground. stand with the creator of all things. stand in your truth. [applause] >> we have one more poet. would you like to read? and then we will, i think, we
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will sign the book. >> dear michelle, you are me. when i look at you icv. i see the young african-american woman who, through good family values, strong roots, hard work, and perseverance has come into her own. when i look at you, i see my sister, the sister who i knew always one of the best for me. especially when i make choices i had absolutely no business making. i see my mother, a strong pragmatic practical woman who knows how to keep it all together, even in the face of adversity. i see the mother who always cares for and about other people. when i look at you, i see my favorite cousin. the beautiful one whose skin and holding always seems to glow, the one who's laughing smile i always wanted in the late. when


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